Thu. Oct 6th, 2022

USAF F-22, F-35 and Reaper drones all share targeting data in real time


July 8, 2021

F-35, F-22 and Reaper drones coordinate breakthrough strike

USAF F-22s, F-35s, and Reaper UAVs all share target data in real-time over a secure, radio-enabled radio frequency data link, bringing the concept of a “mesh” interwoven network of nodes closer to operational reality.

While historically capable of performing some radio communications and, of course, sharing information through ground command and control, some of the U.S. military’s existing data link and radio communications systems may encounter latency challenges regarding the speed of information flow and barriers to data processing. Organize, analyze and transmit important incoming target data. Now, F-22 to F-35 to MQ-9 Reaper UAVs real-time information sharing, target cooperation, information processing and operational connectivity, without the need to combine ground command and control, represent a paradigm-changing possibility for modern warfare.

Some of the latest technological innovations, such as Northrop Grumman’s Freedom 550 software-programmable radio, are built to maintain information stability and security. For example, a stealthy Gen 5 platform can reveal its location by sending out large multi-frequency data transmissions. The larger the Electronic signature, launch or transmission, the easier it is to be detected by the enemy. The challenge is to connect while remaining in “incognito mode”.

Northrop Grumman is now testing a “radio converter” designed to convert the F-22 data link called the Interflight Datalink to the F-35 data link called the Multi-Function Advanced Datalink called MADL.

“We are developing a demonstrator that uses the radio as a translator to covertly convert data sent by the F-35 to the F-22. It involves the use of software-defined radio hardware, software and antennas,” Northrop said. Colin Penn, director of strategy and technical communications at Grumman, told the National Interest in an interview.

Communications and Targeting Breakthrough is part of an ambitious combat readiness exercise called Northern Edge in Alaska, in which many combat assets operate in high-end simulated combat wargaming to conduct multi-domain missions against extremely complex high-end enemy forces . In-flight real-time Gen 5 to Gen 5 connectivity to UAVs in combat operations is an extremely important development as it moves the Pentagon toward its new integrated, multi-domain joint all-domain command and control program. It’s an ambitious and high-impact concept where every combat platform (such as drones, cargo planes, fighter jets, and even ground forces and maritime vessels) acts as a communications “node” capable of sending the entire Data networking for troops. This speeds up the war decision cycle, fights “quickly”, stays in front of the enemy, and exponentially reduces sensor-to-shooter time.

JADC2 and efforts to ensure resilient connectivity are part of a larger strategic shift in the Air Force toward decentralized, better networked, information-driven warfare against technologically advanced adversaries. U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Commander Gen. Jacqueline Van Overst explained this in a recent interesting discussion with the Mitchell Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She mentioned JADC2 in the context of more fully transforming air mobility and transport forces into an integrated element of the overall Joint Multi-Domain Attack Force. Bringing it to operational reality means more experimentation, perhaps even the kind of thing that’s been done at the Northern Edge with the Freedom 550 and an advanced safety network, Van Ovost explained.

“We have to change the way we think about what we do. We are shifting our focus to high-end combat. It is not enough to bring mobility, we want to bring more to the joint force. We want to prepare for the future and Related to that. We need time and ability to experiment and think outside the box,” Van Ovost said.

Talking about these new network-enabled innovations in the “data-driven battlespace,” Phan explained that the data “translators” that underpin the Freedom 550 radio gateway were designed with specific thinking in mind to bring the JADC2 to life.

“What we’re talking about under the JADC2 umbrella is ensuring a resilient, scalable network that can read, share and process data at the edge of the battle. This is key to providing our customers with real-time decision-making capabilities to counter near-end threats and maintain a decision-making edge,” “Phan said.

Even though the F-22 and F-35 are able to share information bi-directionally in combat through radio data links and other innovative technologies to pass targeting data, conduct surveillance and even execute attacks, the issue of detectability remains.

As a stealth platform, the purpose is of course to be undetectable, but radio frequencies emit electronic signatures that, even if fairly secure, can emit potentially detectable RF signals. Radio jamming, jamming attempts, and electronic warfare are basically seen as a “given” in any type of future war scenario, thus introducing the question of whether there can be some sort of data connection that is imperceptible to the enemy, such as the Gen 5 aircraft can maintain their stealth characteristics.

Northrop Grumman is now testing the Freedom 550 radio, which is designed to remain in stealth mode with an integrated software-defined radio. It works by sending IP packets in waves to transmit combat-related information. Phan explained that one multi-purpose box can perform up to 25 different functions. Stealth mode can be maintained by using a smaller number of modules to connect the two data links together through a converter, Phan explained. Fewer modules help keep stealth communications more easily detectable with omnidirectional antennas by reducing emissions. The wider the signal and the wider the emission, the larger the potentially detectable electronic signature, which of course carries the risk of being detected. In recent years, the Air Force has successfully designed a two-way link exchange between F-35 jets and F-22 jets via LINK 16, but the existing data link cannot enable stealth mode. By comparison, the Freedom 550 system does.

Described as a prototype network-centric gateway, Northrop’s Freedom 550 Gateway technology is being developed to support the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System, a series of coordinated networked combat nodes designed to form “in battle” “mesh” or interconnected information exchange. The ABMS program designed to support JADC2 no longer restricts communications to strictly linear or chimney communication channels, but enables broader functional connectivity to connect weapons and sensors while sharing surveillance and targeting data across multiple echelons and combat platforms .

“I can share the data back to the joint force. We’re basically collecting data and sharing that data back and forth with naval things like air and missile defense, sustained fires, and then we can reverse to where we can put the data back location,” Phan said.

Jenna Paukstis, vice president of communications solutions at Northrop Grumman’s Network Information Solutions division, told The Nation that the technological underpinnings of all of this are woven into advanced computing applications, many of which are being achieved through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Fast progress.

“With artificial intelligence, we can make quick decisions in real time,” Paukstis said.

This edge computing, based on advanced algorithms, can collect incoming sensor information and bounce it off a seemingly infinite database in real time to compare, identify, find moments and objects of significant relevance, organize and extract information …and shared across the entire force. Collecting data can only go so far, especially when it comes from so many different sources. AI-enabled computing can perform critical organizational, analytical, and procedural functions in milliseconds faster than anyone in this situation.

“Edge computing enables free radio, integrated communications, navigation and target identification systems. This is key to providing our customers with real-time decision-making capabilities to address near-pair threats and have a decision and information advantage,” Pakstis said.

About the Author:

Kris Osborn is Executive Editor of Warrior Maven and Defense Editor of The National Interest

Chris Osborne is the National Interest’s defense editor. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a highly qualified specialist in the Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Division of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and air military expert on national television networks. He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel and the History Channel as a guest military expert.He also holds an MA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University

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